Thank you, Minister.
Happy to be here and to discuss this important topic; one that is important to our country, to UBC, and to me personally.
Mental health is a significant issue: one in five Canadians will have a mental health problem or illness this year. It’s a world-wide problem too, with growing numbers of people suffering from depression and other mental health problems every year.
Mental health issues are especially relevant to young people, including elementary, high school and university students.
This is why it is so important to integrate mental health literacy and student wellbeing into all stages of education, from kindergarten through Grade 12 through college and university.
Statistics Canada reports suicide as the ninth leading cause of death in Canada, but in the age 1-to-24 grouping, 20 percent of deaths are attributed to suicide.
I can speak from my own personal experience.
When I was young, I twice tried to commit suicide.
I was 14 years old the first time I tried to take my own life.
I was desperate and I was depressed about how I was doing in school.
I’m very grateful I woke up the next day.
Several years later, as a young adult, I again tried to take my life.
I was depressed because I had tried to get an experiment to work for several months and it seemed like every single time I tried the experiment wouldn’t work.
I struggled with mental health issues throughout my youth and young adult life, including my years at the University of Chicago, McGill University, John Hopkins University and Harvard University.
But I kept those struggles to myself. There was a stigma around mental illness that made me reluctant to seek help.
Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have received the medical and psychological support I needed to recover.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and for the last 25 years, I’ve been symptom-free. A big part of the balance in my life is that I have a loving family, and they’re always there for me.
The lesson in my story is if you have the proper counseling and support, it’s really possible for you to move past that and move back into functioning life.
And that support and counselling needs to begin early – when our children are still in school, and at a vulnerable point of their lives.
The early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders is associated with better social, academic and vocational outcomes. Untreated mental illness, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on physical health, academic outcomes and future job prospects.
I’m proud of the work being done at UBC in this area. For example, our Faculty of Education has developed a mental health literacy program and online curriculum resource for teachers.
And UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership – HELP – based in the School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine, has long been a pioneer in children’s well-being and development and has shone a particular light on mental health and social and emotional development and well-being.
I am very excited about the renewed provincial curriculum which emphasizes personal and social competence, including a focus on positive mental health.
As a university president, I witness plenty of evidence that today’s students – students of any age – can and do thrive, given the proper support.
Today, young people are much more aware of their mental health than when I was young, and that’s a good thing.
When young people realize they are not alone in experiencing mental health issues, they are better able to speak up and seek help.
And we – as educators, politicians, administrators – have to be there for them.
We must encourage and enable our institutions to offer their students the support they need.
And we must put special emphasis on traditionally less well-served groups, such as Indigenous students, marginalized groups, and first-generation students.
We must ensure we have institutional supports in place. And we need to constantly evaluate those supports and ensure that they are working.
We must create environments that lend themselves to balanced healthy lifestyles. For example, we need to think about the ways in which academic programs – whether at the elementary, high school, college or university level – are designed and the ways that students are encouraged to engage.
I’m pleased with what we’re doing at UBC, but we need to do more, at every level of the education system.
When I was younger, there were few supports. Eventually, I received the help I needed, for which I am grateful.
It’s up to us to ensure that all students receive that help when they need it.